Review of Volume Objects [12k1045]

Silent Ballet (.COM)

How does one define an album? Case in point – Autistici’s debut, Volume Objects. Yes, I could utilize generic terms like “experimental,” “minimal,” “subtle,” or even the nebulous “good” to describe the album, but these concepts have been stretched so loose that they don’t fit any musical work anymore. In an age when bands that play what used to be defined as “hair metal” can define themselves as “ambient” with the click of a mouse, it is clear that these definitions do not serve their intended purpose and are of minimal use to the conscientious reviewer of a complex work of music. Negative definitions do not suffice, either. To say “Volume Objects is not pop-punk, nor is it shoegaze,” does nothing to inform the prospective listener as to what the album actually is, and a list of negatives that apply to any given work would be far too unwieldy for anyone to be able to use to its intended effect. Thus, it seems that I will have to take the long route to definition, and hopefully through analysis and abstraction we will arrive at a concise definition of at least this individual work of art.

One of the aforementioned “generic” terms may still serve as a useful starting point – properly defined, of course. “Subtlety” is a trait often discussed in music, but its meaning is always taken for granted, as if there is an ideal of musical subtlety that everyone understands univocally. If there is, I’m not aware of it, and so subtlety will be defined for the purposes of this review as “the placing of greater importance on the effect of (relatively) inaccessible or less-audible portions of the piece, as opposed to that of melody, form, and structure.” To clarify, this is not to say that melody, form, and structure are not important, but rather that they are less important than the aforementioned qualities when experiencing a “subtle” work of music. Does the album fit this description? A close listen to “Wire Cage for Tiny Birds” reveals that the work is indeed “subtle.” A melody is built up, then decays, leaving only the underlying sounds for the listener to grasp. A melody is soon built up from these fragments, and then this melody decays, leaving only the seemingly insignificant underlying fragments of the melody to continue the song once more. Autisici is demonstrating the essence of subtlety, here – what makes the song is everything that runs below the surface. Even such basic qualities as melody and form are subject to, and created from, the underlying, overlooked elements of the track. So we can define Volume Objects as exhibiting “subtlety.” It is a good start, but not quite enough to characterize the entire work, however.

Autistici’s debut is also an incredibly sensual album. When I say sensual, I am not referring to the more commonly-used definition of “suggesting sexuality.” Rather, sensuality in Volume Objects relates directly to the senses, beyond the obvious auditory stimulation. Autistici is among the slowly growing number of artists that is intent on developing the tactile quality of music, focusing on the force of the sound made upon the listener’s ears, in addition to the sound itself. “To Human Form” exemplifies this strategy, tactfully shifting additional resonance into the track by selecting sounds that often oppose each other in impact upon the listener’s ear, powerfully contrasting to create a beautiful whole where one sound would be far too harsh, the other too delicate. In a bold move, Autistici also attempts to add visual stimulation to the album’s experience as well, utilizing track titles like “9v Tree Battery” and “Heated Dust on Sunlit Window” to create mental images for the listener to interact with, and by packaging the album with photographs taken by Taylor Deupree that are based upon the aforementioned titles. Even the album’s title, Volume Objects, implies sensation beyond the basic auditory experience offered by nearly all musicians. Autistici is making music using objects, and the visual/tactile properties of these objects are a part of the work just as much as the sounds that compose it.

“Space” is the final word I will use to help define Volume Objects. Autistici breathes this space into all of his compositions, allowing the tracks to be loose and conform not to a rigidly defined pattern, but to the mind of the listener. By leaving some space within the tracks empty, the definition required by most artists is lost. In this context, however, this space does not detract from the whole, but rather allows room for the listener to grab onto some of the more subtle elements of the tracks while still keeping the upper levels in focus. Though the amount of space given to the listener is large, and may tempt those less focused away from a close listen, Autistici’s clever use of space affords those with more patience to see all of the little details that make each track work so wonderfully. “Broken Guitar, Discarded Violin” is a perfect example of this trait in action (or, perhaps more precisely, inaction). The track’s arrangement is sparse, allowing each element to show itself, if subtly, and when the titular discarded violin comes into play, the close listener is rewarded with a powerful sense of fulfillment.

Now we can define Volume Objects satisfactorily. The album is a subtle exploration of various forms of sensual impression that utilizes space as a means to involve the listener in the creation of meaning within the pieces, as well as providing a means of access to the subtle within the context of the album. It is an experience that is never tiresome, never dull, and offers untold rewards to anyone who will give it a few moments of their time. There are very few albums that merit such a long, arduous definition process as this one – that alone should show just how special this experience is. Let less deserving artists be pigeonholed into ill-fitting categories, be described in awkward comparisons. To ignore this album would be to do yourself a great disservice, a crime against your musical imagination. Autistici has created a masterpiece of experimental expression, of interaction between listener and artist, and of the interaction between differing forms of art. The greatest art doesn’t defy definition, rather, it cries out to be clearly and imaginatively defined. -Zach Mills

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